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tv   [untitled]    February 23, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm EST

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i do think when the facts don't argue for our position we re-examine the positions because we fundamentally believe the most important thing is to be right about what the views are. >> a look at the center for american progress, sunday night at 8:00 eastern and pacific on c-span's q&a. all this week we're bringing you a special weeknight edition of "american history tv." it can be seen regularly each weekend here on c-span 3. tonight, the life of george washington. historian richard norton smith gives a three-part series of lectures on our first president. it begins in just a moment. at the 1968 olympic games, john carlos and tommy smith raised their fists in the black power salute. >> they said black power, they intimidated so many people, white people in particular by using that phrase, black power. because when they use that word
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or that phrase black power, it made many people think that black power meant destruction. blowing up the statue of liberty or ground zero. destroying america. it wasn't anything about destroying america. it was about rebuilding america. and having america to have a new paradigm in terms of how we can be what each and every one of us did the pledge when we were going to elementary school and the land of the free, the home of the brave. we all wanted to be great americans, but we found that something was wrong. something was broke and we wanted to take our time to evalue yet and take our initiative to fix it. >> discover more about african african history online. search and share from over 25 years of c-span programming at c-span.org/video library.
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coming up next, richard norton smith reflects on george washington at the age of 22. and how his parents, peers and early military experiences helped shape his personality. this lecture is the first of a three-part series taking a closer look at the evolution of president washington's character throughout his life. this is an hour. >> thank you. that was lovely. very kind. i thought actually between gay and lou we have half of mount rushmore represented here this evening. it's a little bit intimidating, actually. i want to begin first of all by thanking all of you for making the effort to be here. and the ladies association and in particular gay hart gaines
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for whom this lecture series is a long-standing commitment to mount vernon and the programming. to join the distinguished roster which she read off of past gaines scholars is a humbling experience. that is particularly true for one like myself who goes out of his way to remind everyone that i am a washington student, not a washington scholar. and i too want to say a special word of thanks to lou erman. the generous underwriter of the series and one of the best friends american history has ever had. as some of you may know, i spent a great deal of the professional life writing about government governance. in this case, i have to say albany's loss is america's gain.
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it is hard to imagine anyone equaling lou's efforts to combat the scourge of historical illiteracy, a plague well captured in a recent newspaper cartoon, depicting the response of a father and his son to an ominous newspaper headline declaring studentumb on history. you have all read that story. variations. this is such a national tragedy says the father, the newspaper at hand. yeah, replies the son. like when the japanese attacked the alamo. of course, we historians are often accused of loving the past so much that we in effect live in it. when you consider the sh n -- [ laughter ]
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-- tmz, and any of the kardashians, i'm not sure the past is so undesirable a place to live. truth be told, we study the past at least in part to avoid repeating its mistakes. historians are in the prospective business. a commodity we could use more of right about now. in the words of lou's hero abraham lincoln, the occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. that is certainly true when it comes to the state of the assro the halls of congress as well. to visit mount vernon is to be reassured that there are in fact still places where american history is being presented in ways both rigorous and accessible. for me personally it almost feels like a homecoming to be in
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this magical spot. for that and much more i thank the truly visionary leader, blessed with a staff that shares his dedication and innovative outlook. together, with gay and her sister regents, they are stewards of this national treasure, preserves its character so that generations unborn might draw inspiration from the man whose name is synonymous with the character. does character count? on the surface it seems like one of those questions that answers itself. but that hasn't quieted the debate among modern scholars, pundits and politicians alike. for example, how do you define character? on his death bed, it is said that the deposed french emperor napoleon said they wanted me to
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be another washington. albeit one whose character reflected a different attitude to power and the democratic experiment. lincoln as usual had a pithy formulation. character he said is like a tree. and reputation like its shadow. the shadow is what we think of it. the true is the real thing. george washington it hardly needs to be say is -- said is the real thing. yet, it isn't that simple and neither is he. it's equally true that the man for who us personifies the idea much of his early life pursuing what shakespeare will be called the budbble of reputation. washington craved the wealth and deference showered on military heroes by a stratified society. as his priorities changed,d s p self-promotion.
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in time, the youthful surveyor would redraw single-handedly the parameters of success. and in the process he would do much to shape the character of the nation he made possible. a life long learner whose legendary self-possession was more hard won than any of the more conventional battles he fought, washington didn't merely grow up with america. as his evolving views on race and slavery illustrate, to cite but one obvious example, he outdrew it in ways that only add to his stature and his relevance. we go on writing books about him. even as we continue debating aspects of his character. at least in part to compensate for the early myth makers who confuse buy yiography for hero worship. inseparable from the forbidding face on the dollar bill,
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said the imitators did the hero no service. for denying the flaws they robbed washington of his humanity. by presenting him as a finished product, they obscured the life long work in progress by which the tree and its shadow became one. parson weems, anyone who ever knew washington knew that there was no one less likely to throw money away. as he himself t say, many michels make a muckal. tell it to congress. indeed it is washington's ongoing struggle to become the man and leader he wanted to be.r
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its survival. it is this process of becoming which defines his charactert to mention this year's gayhart gaines lecture series. it's hard to think of a topic more relevant to our cynical age and "saturday night live," uth more accustomed to the ironic than the iconic, the suspicion comes naturally that the father of our country might just be too good to be true. by contrast at the other end of the spectrum, it is easier to revere a saint than relate to one. that holds especially true for the washington whose blood was perfection invited a savage backlash of the debunking craze of the 1920s as those who deface his monument. ironically there may be no better metaphor to washington's
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character built in the capital of his making. at first glance it appears chilly, isolated, featureless, a soaring stone finger pointed heavrd closely will you defect variations in the towering obelisk. the bottom third or so is notably different in appearance from the rest. the result of a lengthy halt to the construction process, and the subsequent use of a different shade of stone. as such, it is a reflection in ways no doubt unintended by the builders of washington's own evolution. under this scenario the 1920s with their spit ball scholarship served to divide the idoler thes from the more objective portraiture of recent years. this seems to be beyond dispute. the longer one's exposure to washington, the greater the appreciation of his character development. think of the great multivolume works produced by freeman or
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flexner or the acclaimed washington for our time. these authors succeed precisely because they acknowledge washington's frailties. the starting point for his permanent campaign of self-improvement. far more than his faults or war time expense accounts. it is washington's unabashed pursuit and transcendent fortune that makes him the quintessential american success story. his first biographer david humphrey described the physical giant of prod jous restraint. to the contrary, washington said he had yet to meet the man for who could hurl the rocks more than he. he rocketed a stone to match the height of that geological
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marvel. in a justifiably famous exchange, alan nevins praised douglas southhall-freeman after reading the first two volumes of the magnum opus. yet, he was quick to add a qualifier. i wonder if you think it's a little bit disagreeable. he is not a likable young man. he was too much a careerist, even too much an egoist. freeman conceded the point but with a critical caveat, telling nevins the great fact is that washington grew. freeman was particularly struck by the transforming impact of the 16 years between washington's marriage in 1759 and his summons by congress to command a rag tag essentially regional force purporting to be but the ingredients of growth were present from his earliest years.
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to be sure, young washington was a socially awkward aspirant to the colonial gentry, brave to the point of brashness, touchy where his honor was concerned. unsophisticated in matters of love. but even then he carried with him the seeds of sacrificial leadership. pregnant with character, this is washington at 22. the first of those three astonishing life-like figures. of washington, which anchored the exhibits in the reynolds education center here at mount vernon. here he is depicted in the forest, arguably his earliest true skilled surveyor, stampin order on chaos by fixing his name to unchartered lands. washington was barely 15 when he pocketed his first 500 acres as a surveying theme. land he wrote about the time is
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the most permanent estate and is likely to increase in value. an exhausted soil was the price of prosperity. thus, the unending quest for unspoiled lands to the west. along with the wealth and distincti distinctions, such holdings bestowed in virginia. did this compensate for emotions held from his son? and cooley taking their measure as if observing a misplaced free or errant boulder. his need to control was marked by family tensions and a longing for escape. the eldest son of a second marriage, he lost his father at the age of 11. thereafter the name of augustin
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washington appears twice in his son's 19,000 surviving letters. from his vinegary mother, that's a carefully chosen word by the wa you can choose any variation you want. it's -- you could do a whole study. you could write a book. i'm sure people have written monographs about how washington's mother has evolved in the national consciousness. how in the 19th century she was held up to be a saintly figure and let's just say the debunkers have not finished with mary bell washington. from his vinegary mother, george inherited a natural aura of command. that's not the only legacy of mary ball washington to a son who i think resembled her more than either kid to acknowledge. of the mother, remembered one of george's boyhood playmates, i
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was ten times more afraid of he own parents. it prompted washington to establish an independent sense of self. even while struggling to sub die the volatile emotions. i wish i could say he could temper his emotions. he is subject to attacks of anger on provocation. sometimes without just cause. time would cure the 16-year-old friend of the vice, predicted his lordship. adding that young george was someone, quote, who will go to school all his life. what a wonderful phrase. and how quint essentially american. and this is not a school where you get a degree. the great thing about washington, it's -- they're frankly historians to this day who condescend to washington. because of his relativelyon.
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what they tend to overlook is he never stopped learning. his education was for life. he had relatively little interest -- he was not intellectual in the sense that abstract ideas and the play of ideas for the sake of their play mattered. his was a practical intellect. this was prophetic. for while his formal education was meager, washington knew what he did not know. the most important spur to life long learning and the key to understanding his later invention of cabinet government. from an early age, washington read more and more widely than we suppose. he read from practical benefit and he read for literary diversion. he read seneca's dialogues, imbibing the giaree offers the path to happiness.
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a sensual life is a miserable life. the contempt of death makes all mi washington learned to read people as well as books. at the age of famously copied out 110 rules of civility and decent behavior in conversation. and i will not quote. it's irresistible but i shall resist. it's the earliety etiquette man is part of his effort to improve his handwriting. what of a companion piece? young washington jotted down for its moral instruction. these are things which once possessed will make a life that's truly blessed. a good estate on healthy soil, not cut by vice or yet by toil.
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around the warm fire, a pleasant joke with chimney ever free from smoke. a strength and tire, a sparkling bole, a quiet life, a quiet soul. if nothing else, washington's choice of verse hints at what may have been missing from his austere upbringing. though his formal education was modest, his military career offered its own seminar in the art of leadership. his first for knowledge was unslakable. in time, he would travel more extensively and meet a wider range of people than any american his age. his curiosity undimmed by fame or the adulation, washington appears to have gained something from nearly every encounter he had. this was his true education. its benefits magnified by the attention to detail.
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the death of his fire left young george without a role model. his had his older half brother lawrence to emulate. he was a stylist member in good standing of the military. he was surpassed by only his marital one. marrying into the fairfax clan opened doors to both brothers. the it was the fairfax connection that led the adolescent george beyond the blue ridge. the journey over the mountains in the water logged spring of 1748 reflects an adventurous youth on the cusp of manhood. eager for experience, yet appreciative of comfort. whether it took the form of a good feather bed in remote country lodges or the superiority of sleeping under the straws under a straw
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mattress crawling with vermin. washington voiced contempt for, quote, the worst road that was trod on by man or beast. he ought to try the commute in northern virginia. at the home of a frederick, maryland, justice of the peace he was dismayed to find neither tablecloth or knife to eat, but as good luck would have it we had knives of our own. his critical eye was surveying the prime acreage under lord fairfax and in shooting wild turkeys for nourishment. every day offered fresh tests of his endurance and ingenuity. a persistent wind blew down his te tents. other times the smoke drove them from their shelter. washington learned to make do with what was at hand. displaying the talent for improvisation that was to be a hallmark of his military and political careers.
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one evening, being without spits for roasting or plates, he adapted forks and wood chips in their place. living off the land, washington also had his first encounter with native americans. whose liquor-induced war dance he found highly entertaining. the allure of the west, shadowy preview of the continental republic he would champion. this seized ahold of him with a grip that never relaxed. this then is washington at 22. a young giant whose social status has yet to catch up to his physical stature. by then he was a celebrity, based on the reconnaissance of the french and indian territory. lawrence's death in july 1752 had opened the door toeer his y brother coveted.
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with no practical experience, george was appointed a major. he pulled every string within reach to be transferred to the more prestigious command of the northern neck. his jockeying for position paid off in the autumn of 1753. that there was more to this ambitious youth than mere place seeking is evidenced by the decision to entrust washington with an assignment that would test the mettle of one many years his senior. stoked by the alarmist reports of an impending french invasion, london wished to know more about the enemy's presence in the disputed ohio river valley. 21-year-old george washington was to be its unlikely emissary. his orders were plain enough. dependinghat he learned, washington was to present an ultimatum to the french commandant on behalf of king george ii, politely demanding
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that the french vacate his own territory. the story of washington's first diplomatic mission and its decidedly undiplomatic outcome is as tangled as the ohio country hotly disputed by the french, the english and native american tribes only two willing to play the european powers off against each other. the governor hoped to eliminate the friendch from the ohio valley is as clear as the ambition of the land hungry company to take the place. but the governor lacked the military resources to do so is equally transparent. playing his cards close to his vest, dinwiddie didn't inform them of washington's mission until a week after the young man's departure for the frontier. and courtship rituals crossed signals, raised hopes, false promises and silken betrayals
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preceded him from the lake erie town of pressing isle. he got his first taste of bureaucratic evasion with extravagant courtesy promised to forward the document to the governor general in quebec. unless colonel washington wished to deliver it himself. a diversionary tactic that washington saw through like a plate glass window. the french practiced their own form of diplomacy. the young envoy from williamsburg had all he could do to convince his indian allies to come away with him. so alliuring were the weapons, f only theremain behind. the return trip was marred by inadequate supplies and native
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treachery. the far more experienced christopher guest covered 18 miles on half blistered feet. they nearly fell victim to an indian guide who had volunteered his services only to open fire on them at the first opportunity. he tackled the guide and would have killed him yet for washington's intervention. hoping to put some distance between themselves and their would be assailant, they tramped all night on freshly fallen snow. with a small hatchet, they built a raft capable of crossing the allegheny river. hurled into the frigid waters by the current, they spent the night on an island before walking across the frozen surface in the morning. mid january 1754 found washington back in williamsburg where grateful burgess gave him 50 pounds and the journal of the trip be sent to the board of trade in london.
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when the same narrative was printed for public distribution, washington got his first taste of celebrity. it would give way soon enough to global notoriety. publication of his wilderness diary and of having found the sound of solid bullets in his words charming, moved king george to observe that washington couldn't have heard very many bullets. undeterred by the dismal picture washington communicated, governor dinwiddie ordered him to recruit 100 volunteers part of a larger force in pittsburgh. he might as well have appealed for 100,000. at length, washington managed to assemble a squadron of 75 men in his words,estite of house and home. only the promise of future land
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grants filled out the ranks. at least until the desertions began. foreshadowing the later war time relations with a fractious congress, washington chafed under insinuation by several that he was part of a plot to advance the interests of the ohio country. the same assembly appointed 14 of the members to oversee an this too contributed to washington's education. as he contended daily with skulking militia, unwilling suppliers and lawmakers who fought wars with their tongues. a safe distance from the front. anyone else might well have put in protest or worst turned into the proverbial man on horse back. a very threat to the popular liberties he was sworn to defend. it is a testament to washington's character then and later that he never became jaded or cynical.

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